Emergency referendum called on NSS amid fee hike concerns

YUSU will hold an emergency referendum to decide whether or not to boycott the National Student Survey (NSS). The National Union of Students (NUS) called for the nationwide boycott over concerns that the survey data will be used to justify hikes in tuition fees.

The NSS is part of the government’s Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) which was launched by Jo Johnson, the Minister of State for Universities and Science. The TEF will sort universities into gold, silver, and bronze categories based on the feedback of the NSS, which is sent to all final-year students studying in the UK. According to an announcement from the Department of Education in September 2016, the categories “will be used from year three [2018] onwards to inform differentiated fees”. Institutions will be able to raise their tuition fees in line with how they are categorised.

The Higher Education Funding Council, which administers the NSS, has stated that the categories will be based on an average score from the past three years’ results, not on 2017s alone. NSS results from 2014, 2015, and 2016 will be used in the first ever TEF classification. As such the boycott will not stop universities being categorised by the TEF.

The government says that the NSS will ultimately help to better inform students’ choices about what and where to study, recognise excellent teaching, and help meet the needs of employers. However, the NUS believes that this will lead to an “internal market” where students are treated “like customers rather than learners”. The NUS also believes that the NSS is wrong to measure “satisfaction” in a university, when what actually counts is “whether the student has been intellectually challenged in a supportive environment”.

Some 20 student unions around the country have declared their support of the NSS boycott. The University and College Union (UCU) – which represents UK lecturers and other staff of higher education institutions – has also come out in support, criticising the NSS as a waste of money that could be better spent on education.

A joint statement issued from the NUS and UCU outlined their belief that the boycott was a necessary part of their commitment to promoting the interests of students and staff and to “defend education”. The statement also said that the NSS will “entrench inequality and damage the UK’s academic reputation”.

Whether or not YUSU will also join the boycott will depend on the forthcoming referendum result. However, the University’s official position remains in support of the NSS.

David Duncan, York’s Registrar and Secretary, told Nouse: “while we have not commented on the NUS call, the University supports participation in the National Student Survey (NSS), which we believe helps us to benchmark our institutional performance and the performance of individual disciplines in key areas.

“Overall, we think that participation in the survey assists us in enhancing the student experience.”

James Humpish, Policy Coordinator for YUSU’s Policy Review Group, will be chairing the debate on which way YUSU should vote in the referendum. Humpish explained that referenda may be called in exceptional circumstances such as this if the policy in question is considered a time-sensitive issue. “Given the number of other universities that have voted and have chosen to boycott the NSS, it was deemed a time-sensitive issue.”

“I think this is fair enough,” Humpish said. “More students will engage with it if it’s voted on sooner rather than later.”

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